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Jane Austen, feminism and fiction by…

Jane Austen, feminism and fiction

by Margaret Kirkham

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I am not usually fond of academic criticism, but, at risk of ruining Kirkham's reputation with her peers, I thought this was marvelous. The book is free from jargon, not "trendy", and does not throw out some "daring" (and impausible) novelty. As such, it is still well worth reading 17 years after publication. It is one of the most valuable books that I have read about Jane Austen and I would recommend it to almost anyone.

This is an extremely readable, well-argued and -supported look at Austen's writings, focussing on her place in the discussion of the proper role of woman and literature in her time. I have read biographies that have touched on this topic, but they were incomplete and shallow compared to this work. I have learned an enormous amount. Kirkham also mentions various critics who have disagreed with her, so the reader is introduced to the controversies and able to follow up on the topic.

I have a few minor cavils. Kirkham follows the unfortunate academic habits of not always translating non-English quotes, and referring to her own opinions in the third-person, i.e. "The Reader". Other little dissatisfactions may be the choices of the publisher: the chapters have a running title at the top of the page, but are referred to in the notes only by number, requiring the reader to flip back to the beginning of chapters to match citations with references. There is no bibiliography: in particular, I would have like a bibliography of the works of other novelists whose works are compared or contrasted with Austen's. These are not listed in the notes, either. There are some proof-reading failures, as in the chapter on Mansfield Park, where Dr. Grant is referred to as "Dr. Crawford".

These complaints are, taken with the book as a whole, fade into relative insignificance. This is a book well worth reading.

For those interested in the general topic, I also recommend Claudia Johnson's Jane Austen: Women, Politics, & the Novel, which is similar in intent but different enough in approach to be complementary rather than repetitive. Alison G. Sulloway's Jane Austen & the Province of Womanhood analyzes her writing in view of contemporary advice on female conduct rather than literary works. ( )
  juglicerr | Oct 6, 2007 |
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